Before Sunday afternoon, Adam Kunkel had played in just two games for Xavier after receiving his waiver to play after transferring from Belmont. He was a combined 2-for-8 in 34 minutes, and he missed all three shots he took against Oklahoma back on December 9th, which was XU’s last game before they were shutdown due to COVID-19 issues.
On Sunday afternoon, against Marquette, Kunkel was 6-for-8 from the field BEFORE Xavier’s final possession of the game which turned into his final shot of the afternoon:
The 6’4” native of Hebron, Kentucky, made some adult-sized shots all day long for the Musketeers, but none were more important to the out come of XU’s 91-88 victory than that one at the horn, on the move, on a second chance that luckily bounced into his hands. The win by Xavier snaps a four game winning streak by Marquette in the series between the two teams, keeps Xavier unbeaten on the year at 8-0 and 1-0 in Big East play. The Golden Eagles drop to 5-4 on the season and 1-2 to start conference action. Since knocking off #4 Wisconsin back on December 4th, Marquette has gone just 2-3.
This was, to say the least, a wild game from start to finish.
According to the live stats provided by the wonderful people in the Xavier athletic department, Marquette had a nine point lead at one point in the first half, 24-15, with 8:40 to go. Xavier’s biggest lead was eight points, at 78-70, which came with 5:53 to go in the second half. There were 11 ties in the game, and 13 lead changes. At least that’s how I think I’m supposed to read this, because it lists those same numbers for both teams. If you want to tell me there were 22 ties and 26 lead changes, I might find it hard to believe you, but it was a pretty wild game, so there you go.
While Marquette led by 1 at halftime and a D.J. Carton triple made it a four point game just 17 seconds into the second stanza, the Golden Eagles ended up chasing after Xavier for most of the second half. A Paul Scruggs jumper tied it at 40, and an and-1 by Kunkel — hey, there he is again — pushed XU out in front, 47-46. That’s when the aforementioned chasing started. Xavier shot — and this is not a joke — 18-for-26 in the second half, including 7-for-10 from behind the three-point line. At one point, they were 13-for-15 from the field. So it was a pretty serious chase..... but Marquette was, for the most part, never that far away from the Musketeers.
Marquette went down four, Koby McEwen got a jumper to put them up 1, 53-52. Marquette went down three, Dawson Garcia got an and-1 to tie it. It was back and forth, but always Marquette answering to take the lead back or tie it up, never MU seeing Xavier chase them down. Back-to-back three-pointers from Kunkel — what are the chances — and Jason “I’m only shooting 4-for-16 on the year and 30% for my career” Carter gave Xavier that 78-70 lead with just under six minutes to play.
With the way Xavier was firing it off in the second half, this one looked super donezo.
Except.... it wasn’t? Marquette went on a 6-2 burst after Carter’s three through the under-4 media timeout, and it was a four point game, 80-76, at that point. Nate Johnson hit a three for the X-Men to make it seven again.... but it wasn’t over? It was at six points with a minute left and McEwen scored to make it a four point game again. Carter missed two freebies. Justin Lewis scored. Carter hit two free throws. McEwen drew a foul while draining a three. 25 seconds left. He calmly made the extra toss.
Tie game. 25 seconds left. Somehow. For no explainable reason, honestly. It shouldn’t have gotten here. Marquette had no business getting it here. Xavier made too many shots. You’re not supposed to foul a jump shooter, and you’re definitely not supposed to do it with less than 30 seconds left, and you’re definitely not supposed to do it while up four, and you’re definitely definitely not supposed to do it while making so little contact that he still can make the shot.
And then you saw what happened with Paul Scruggs’ missed layup and Marquette’s inability to get a defensive rebound to force overtime and Kunkel’s amazing shot.
Marquette got a pair of 20 point performances from Koby McEwen and Dawson Garcia, along with Theo John going for a very great 14 (including all four of his free throws) and D.J. Carton and Jamal Cain each adding 10. Cain was king of the rebounds with seven, while Carton’s five assists led MU.
Kunkel’s blowup was the story of the day, but his 22 points was not the game high. Those honors go to Paul Scruggs, who had 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting. He was really great all game long for Xavier and a big part of the “Marquette can not stop anyone here” problem. MU did shut down Zach Freemantle, XU’s leading scorer coming in, holding him to just nine opints, but he added seven rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Scruggs added four rebounds, six assists, and three steals to his night to swipe KenPom MVP honors away from Kunkel.
Up Next: Well, seeing as Marquette has been most successful this season against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, this is good news. Villanova comes to town for MU’s last game before Christmas. The #7 ranked Wildcats beat Saint Joseph’s, 88-68, on Saturday for their fifth straight win. They’re now 7-1 on the year and 2-0 in Big East action with easy wins over Georgetown (even though they trailed by a lot) and Butler.